Tight end Hunter Henry stepped into the Chargers’ starting lineup for an ailing Antonio Gates in Week 3 and immediately made an impact. His fourth-quarter fumble may have ended the game, but the Chargers wouldn’t have been in striking distance of the Colts without his contributions. In the first real action of his career, he caught five passes for 72 yards, bringing a vertical element to the interior of the Chargers’ passing attack.
Henry had one more game with the tight end position all to himself, and in that one he hauled in four balls for 61 yards and his first career touchdown. Gates returned the following week, but that hasn’t slowed down the rookie out of Arkansas. He has scored in both of the last two weeks and is up to 19 receptions for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He also has cemented a role for himself in the San Diego offense.
The Chargers selected Henry with the 35th pick in this year’s draft with an eye on him taking the torch from Gates next season. The changing of the guard is happening sooner than anyone believed it even could. The list of tight ends who struggled as rookies is long and littered with stars. Tony Gonzalez had 33 receptions for 368 yards and two scores as a rookie with the Chiefs in 1997. Shannon Sharpe barely played his rookie year, then put up 22 catches, 322 yards and one score in his second season. Gates, Henry’s mentor, caught 24 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns in his inaugural season. The narrative exists largely because it’s been proved true time and time again.
Henry’s numbers through six games put him on pace for 50 catches, 826 yards and eight touchdowns, with each stat rounded down to the nearest whole number. Exactly one tight end in NFL history cleared all of those thresholds as a rookie. Way back in 1961, Mike Ditka hauled in 56 passes for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Bears. Henry has a chance to join a legend in the record books this season.
Let’s forget about checking all three of those boxes for a second. Few tight ends have hit even one of those marks. Eight rookie TEs in the history of the league have had 50 receptions, four have racked up 800 yards, and three have scored at least eight touchdowns. Remember, too, that Henry barely played in San Diego’s first two games. If you include just the four weeks in which he has been on the field for at least two-thirds of the team’s snaps, Henry is on pace for 76 catches, 1,240 yards and 12 touchdowns.
All of this is to say that anyone who bought into the Henry hype already this season has a locked-in TE1 on their hands. He should be in your lineup this week, next week and every week for the rest of the season.
Eli Manning (vs. Los Angeles in London)
I see that many of my fellow rankers on the Internet aren’t buying Manning after his big game against the Ravens last week. He checks in with a FantasyPros consensus rank of QB16, which is far too low for a player who has significantly outperformed his surface stats this season. Manning has 1,788 yards, 7.67 yards per attempt and a completion percentage just shy of 65%. He has had more than 8.7 YPA in three starts this year. The touchdowns are going to come in bunches, like they did last week when he threw three against Baltimore.
Marcus Mariota (vs. Indianapolis)
Mariota is seventh among quarterbacks in total points and ninth in points-per-game (minimum five starts) in standard-scoring fantasy leagues. He’s running more than he has previously in his career, and is getting it done through the air despite substandard weapons at receiver. Mariota is one of nine quarterbacks with at least 10 passing touchdowns this year. The others are Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Meanwhile, the Colts have surrendered the ninth-most points per game to quarterbacks this year.
Andy Dalton (vs. Cleveland)
Dalton has had poor touchdown luck this season, but he might be having a better overall year than his breakout 2015 campaign. He has racked up 1,757 yards and 8.06 YPA through six games, ranking fifth in the league in YPA, but second among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts (Matt Ryan is first). The Browns have allowed the second-most points per game to quarterbacks and have yet to hold a passer to fewer than 18.2 standard-league points.
Kirk Cousins (at Detroit)
We discussed just how bad Detroit’s pass defense has been this season in the Week 6 fantasy takeaways. The Browns get more negative attention, but it’s the Lions who have allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks, providing that same safe floor while surrendering two 30-point games, one of which came from the right arm of Case Keenum. Cousins has been steady all year and is a safe bet to be among the top 10 quarterbacks in Week 6.
Colin Kaepernick (vs. Tampa Bay)
Kaepernick’s first start of the season wasn’t necessarily all that special from a real-life perspective, but he delivered in the fantasy world. Kaepernick threw for 187 yards and one touchdown while running for 66 yards on eight carries, totaling 18.08 points in standard-scoring leagues. That’ll play in most superflex formats as a solid QB2 number. The Buccaneers are just about league average in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, but they’ve fattened up on matchups with Paxton Lynch and Derek Anderson in their last two games. Kaepernick projects as a top-20 quarterback this week.
Aaron Rodgers (vs. Chicago)
I never thought we’d see the day when Rodgers would be in this section, especially in a home game against the Bears, a team he has owned his entire career. Something isn’t right with the Green Bay offense, though, and now it will be without RB Eddie Lacy, who is on the shelf with an ankle injury. Rodgers is completing just 60.2% of his passes for 6.46 YPA, both of which would be career lows. The Bears have been surprisingly competent against the pass, allowing the 12th-fewest fantasy points per game and holding Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford and Blake Bortles all to 12.6 points or fewer.
Tyrod Taylor (at Miami)
Taylor has made a few big plays this season and his rushing production is as stable as it gets, but he can’t live on those two facets of his game alone. He has thrown for fewer than 180 yards in four of his six games this season, making him dependent on getting at least five or six points from his legs. He’s perfectly capable of doing that, but fantasy owners don’t necessarily want to bank on that outcome.
Carson Palmer (vs. Seattle)
Before Matt Ryan carved up the Seahawks in the third quarter last week, they had shut down every passing game that came calling this season. Now, to be fair, the first four quarterbacks they faced were Ryan Tannehill, Case Keenum, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Fitzpatrick, but don’t let that discredit the accomplishment. Add in Palmer’s relative struggles this season, and it’s hard to have much confidence in him in this matchup.
Jay Ajayi (vs. Buffalo)
I hate to break it to you, Ajayi owners, but he’s not going to run for 204 yards and two touchdowns this week. I know, it’s shocking, but true. But there’s good news here. He’s still well worth starting, even in a matchup with a stout Buffalo defense. The Dolphins owe it to themselves and Ajayi to see what he can do as a feature back week after week. Assuming this game stays close, I think we see Ajayi push back up toward or beyond 20 touches. Arian Foster is an afterthought in the offense at this point.
Jeremy Hill (vs. Cleveland)
Hill has been a painfully frustrating player to own this season, but this matchup sets up well for him. The Bengals are favored by 10 points at home against a Browns team that has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Hill is still dealing with a slightly ailing shoulder, but the Bengals didn’t limit his workload at all last week. If they’re running out the clock in the second half, he will be their back of choice.
Jerick McKinnon (at Philadelphia)
McKinnon hasn’t exactly taken off as some projected after Adrian Peterson’s season-ending injury. What is encouraging, though, is that he has had at least 17 touches in all three of his games as Minnesota’s starter. The Vikings’ defense regularly creates favorable game scripts for runners, and that shouldn’t be any different in Philadelphia on Sunday. The Eagles have allowed 5.09 yards per carry this season against teams that started Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy Langford, DeAngelo Williams, Theo Riddick and Matt Jones. McKinnon is a solid RB2 choice.
James White (at Pittsburgh)
In two games with Tom Brady at the helm, White has 12 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 12 carries, the same number of totes he had in New England’s first four games. That’s a direct reflection of him being on the field more with his skill set better suited for a Brady-led offense than LeGarrette Blount’s. You’re not even thinking twice about White in PPR leagues, but there’s enough juice here for him to be an RB2 in standard formats, as well.
Ryan Mathews (vs. Minnesota)
Philadelphia’s backfield is too fractured to trust Mathews most weeks, regardless of matchup. That is doubly true when he’s going up against the Vikings, a defense that has allowed the eighth-fewest points to running backs and has yet to let a back run for more than 50 yards in a game this season. DeMarco Murray’s receiving numbers in Week 1 account for more than 20% of the running back points the Vikings have surrendered this season. This is a terrible spot for Mathews.
Matt Forte (vs. Baltimore)
Over the last four weeks, Forte has rushed for 164 yards on 50 carries, which comes out to 3.28 yards per rush. He has seven catches for 25 yards in that same span, a dramatic reversal for a player who has long been one of the best receiving backs in the league. Bilal Powell is playing more snaps than him on a regular basis, and the Jets’ offense as a whole is in shambles. Forte should be on fantasy benches until further notice.
Chris Ivory (vs. Oakland)
Ivory has two factors working in his favor. First, in games where he has been fully healthy, he has out-touched T.J. Yeldon 26 to 15. Second, he’s the team’s goal-line back, hogging any short-yardage scores that might result in the Jacksonville offense. This week, he also has a great matchup with an Oakland defense that has allowed the fourth-most points per game to running backs. So why is he a sit? Have you seen the Jaguars’ run blocking this season? Walter Payton would struggle to run for more than 3.5 yards per carry behind this line. That makes it nearly impossible to trust Ivory.
Rashad Jennings (vs. Los Angeles in London)
With all due respect to the Jaguars, the Giants might have the worst running game in the league. At the same time, Manning is second in the NFL in passing yards, and Odell Beckham Jr. is back on track after a 222-yard, two-touchdown game last week. The Giants are going to bring that aerial show to London on Sunday. Jennings may be back in the starter’s chair, but he’s barely on the fantasy radar.
Cameron Meredith (at Green Bay)
Meredith has been so good the last two weeks that he earned the coveted spot as the intro subject in this week’s Target and Snap Report. The second-year receiver out of Illinois State has 20 catches for 243 yards and a touchdown the last two weeks, quickly turning himself into a must-start receiver. If he and Kevin White were one player, that player would lead the NFL in targets. The Packers, meanwhile, have surrendered the most fantasy points per game to receivers. Fire up Meredith with a ton of confidence this week.
Travis Benjamin (at Atlanta)
Benjamin has had a slow couple of games over the last three weeks and hasn’t found the end zone since Week 2, but he has a nice setup this week. The over-under on Chargers-Falcons is a robust 53, and with the Falcons favored by a touchdown, Philip Rivers is likely going to be slinging the ball a whole lot on Sunday. Benjamin is dealing with a minor leg injury, but it’s not expected to slow him down. He should post, at worst, WR3 numbers.
Mike Wallace (at New York Jets)
Steve Smith has not practiced all week because of the ankle injury that caused him to miss the Ravens’ Week 6 loss to the Giants. It’s likely he’ll be inactive again on Sunday, opening the door for Wallace atop the depth chart. He caught four balls for 97 yards last week and is a matchup nightmare for a Jets team that has struggled covering the deep ball this season. The Jets have allowed the second-most points to receivers on the year, helping make Wallace a top-30 receiver in Week 7.
Michael Thomas (at Kansas City)
Thomas has found the end zone in each of the last three weeks, with all of his touchdowns coming from inside the 10-yard line. He has quickly become Drew Brees’s favorite target in the red zone, and that puts him on the start radar in all fantasy formats every week. Even with a tough matchup and the reality of Brees’s home/road splits, Thomas’s allure is too great to be ignored. Consider him a safe WR3 with WR2 upside.
Jordan Matthews (vs. Minnesota)
The Vikings have allowed two touchdowns to receivers this year, with Jordy Nelson and DeAndre Hopkins achieving what has turned into one of the toughest feats in football. They’ve yet to allow a receiver more than 76 yards, shutting out Kelvin Benjamin and limiting Beckham to 23 yards. It’s hard to trust the best receivers in the league against the Vikings, let alone a solid, though unspectacular, fantasy player like Matthews. He’s my No. 37 receiver, so I’m not avoiding him at all costs, but I’d be hunting for better options.
Will Fuller (at Denver)
You can basically cut and paste the above paragraph, changing just the names to make sure everything is accurate. The Vikings have allowed the second-fewest points per game to receivers this year, and the only stingier defense is in Denver. They Broncos have surrendered a shockingly low 10.2 standard-league fantasy points per game to receivers this year. That’s not just to the top-scoring receiver in every game. That’s to a team’s entire receiving corps. Fuller is likely in for a long day.
Golden Tate (vs. Washington)
Let’s cool it on the “Golden Tate is back” storylines. He may have had a great game last week, but it should take more than one performance to earn your trust after Tate’s opening month. Also, note that Washington has been better than league average against receivers this year and hasn’t allowed a top-16 quarterback since Week 1.
Kyle Rudolph (at Philadelphia)
The Eagles have great numbers against tight ends this season, but they haven’t faced one who’s as integral to his team’s offense as Rudolph. Rudolph has had at least 65 yards or a touchdown in four of his five games this season, providing a reliable floor for owners at the low end of the TE1 class. It’s possible Stefon Diggs still isn’t 100%, which would likely result in a larger share of the passing game for Rudolph on Sunday.
Gary Barnidge (at Cincinnati)
Barnidge has a low ceiling because of the Cleveland offense as a whole, but he’s not going to put up a complete dud. He’s insulated against that thanks to the lack of weapons in the offense, and the likelihood that the Browns will be trailing for most of this game. He has at least 57 yards in each of his last four games and should fall on the right side of the TE1/2 borderline this week.
Dennis Pitta (at New York Jets)
Joe Flacco didn’t practice earlier this week, and if he’s unable to play, thus giving way to Ryan Mallett, this becomes a much easier call. Even with Flacco under center, Pitta is no more than a high-end TE2. Since his 102-yard game against the lowly Browns, who have allowed the most points per game to tight ends this season, he has 22 catches for 154 yards in four games. That translates to 3.85 points per game in standard-scoring leagues.
Zach Ertz (vs. Minnesota)
At some point, you have to accept that something just isn’t going to happen. The fantasy community seems wiling to give Ertz a pass every season—and every week of every season—consistently ranking him as a safe TE1. I’m struggling mightily to figure out why that’s the case. He has 10 catches for 117 yards in three games this season. Sure, he’s better than the Jesse James/Clive Walford set, but he’s not even close to a TE1, especially in a matchup with the Vikings.
Defenses to stream
Baltimore Ravens (at New York Jets)
Geno Smith is getting his first start of the season this week, and while he can’t be any worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick has been, you shouldn’t need any further inducement to stream the Ravens. The Ravens have also been a quietly effective fantasy defense, totaling 11 sacks, 11 takeaways and two blocked kicks on the year.
Tennessee Titans (vs. Indianapolis)
No offensive line has been friendlier to the pass rush than the Colts, surrendering a league-high 23 sacks in six games. The Titans, meanwhile, have 18 sacks, which is good for fifth in the league, trailing only the Broncos, Bills, Cardinals and Vikings. While we’ve all been paying attention to Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray, the Titans have been playing an effective brand of defense. They’ll bring that to bear against the Colts on Sunday.